Leveraged Rage: Myanmar’s Economic Boom Going Bust

While we were all looking the other way, a coup broke in Myanmar. After years of United Nations and Western-led pushes for sanctions and suspicion against the nation for purported humanitarian issues , it’s State Counselor (head of state), Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was ousted from power in February 2021.

To be sure the world had heard rumblings about Myanmar, since the installment of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in 2016 and beyond. Most notably, Western powers attacked the new leader on the country’s complex history with the Rohingya people, a tiny state-less minority that has faced similar intolerance in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as well as other states in the region. And while these accusations seemed to reach a fever pitch in 2016 forward, what was less audible was Myanmar’s quiet policy changes that began to restrict access to its lucrative mining sector. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi instituted a series of policy and departmental changes in her first year in office in 2016.

To be sure the world had heard rumblings about Myanmar, since the installment of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in 2016 and beyond.

According to an in-depth report by the Oxford Business Group, Myanmar has, 8 distinct mineral belts running from North to South containing more than 2000 occurrences of 60 different mineral commodities . . .[it has] the most diverse natural resources in Southeast Asia.” Myanmar has 6 commercially relevant mines the international world is clamoring to access. The nation boasts of plentiful deposits of lead, zinc, silver, gold, copper, tungsten, tin, rubies, jade and other precious gemstone.

In 2015, the outgoing Myanmar government had begun a process of opening up its mining sector after years of middling results. It passed legislation to empower the private sector, encourage foreign direct investment (FDI) and improve conservation. However, when Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Myanmar National League for Democracy (NLD) member, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi took power, mineral policy took a turn nobody expected.

In 2015, the outgoing Myanmar government had begun a process of opening up its mining sector after years of middling results.  It passed legislation to empower the private sector, encourage foreign direct investment (FDI) and improve conservation.

In 2017, mining was removed from the NLD’s list of promoted sectors. According to a statement recorded by the Oxford Business Group from Myanmar’s Precious Resources Group, Chairman U Htun Lynn Stein said, “The rational for not making mining a promoted sector is simple. The government doesn’t want Myanmar to become a resource dependent economy.”

The choice for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi government to pivot the nation was palpable. Despite its move from mining and the ravages of Covid-19, the national plan seemed to be working. In 2020 the nation achieved almost 100 percent of its target FDI, according to a report in The Irrawaddy online, a Myanmar English-language news source. Despite its current upheavals and Rohingya criticisms Myanmar was on the upswing.

“The rational for not making mining a promoted sector is simple.  The government doesn’t want Myanmar to become a resource dependent economy.”

Myanmar’s Precious Resources Group, Chairman U Htun Lynn Stein

In fact, Myanmar was doing brisk business. “While Myanmar is open to investment from any country following the ease of International sanctions, Chinese-backed projects still account for the lions share of mineral output, with sizeable investments in copper, nickel, tin and zinc.” The Oxford Business Group reports. It seems a similar case to Eastern Europe and its longstanding ties to Russia; many asian nations continue to nurture their longtime relationship with China.

New resource discoveries that have elevated Bulkan states to Western notice, are doing the same in Asia. As the West and its global structures seeks to reclaim relevance despite quickly decomposing influence and political muscle; developing nations like Myanmar are once again becoming a focal point for a Western resurgence. It seems the EU and others are not able to forge the kind of trusted relationships Russia and China has managed to build over the decades in these regions.

Since Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s military arrest during the coup, the nation has fallen to unrest, with Chinese businesses being targeted by dissidents. Mining accounts for nearly a million jobs in Myanmar. China, India and Japan are its top three investors giving a window into the growing influence of non-Western actors throughout the world leveraging key mutually beneficial relationships.

The former British colony has endured extensive periods of geopolitical unrest. Now, however, with its great mining and new energy resources and as it grapples with internal conflict, the nation must negotiate a better future –one with trusted alies and strategic trade partners that do not threaten its sovereignty or growth.

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